A lot of speculation was made around NHL circles about how the Colorado Avalanche would handle losing captain Gabriel Landeskog for the remainder of the season — and so far it’s turned out well.
The Avs will need to prove themselves even more coming up, with Mikko Rantanen out for at least the next game. But for now, Colorado put together a full team effort in besting the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 Saturday afternoon for their fourth straight win — and in the process jumped both the Arizona Coyotes and the Minnesota Wild to snag the last Wild Card position.
With eight different Avalanche players earning a point on Saturday, it’s easy to assume that Nathan MacKinnon was one of those players. Surprisingly enough, though, the team’s leading scorer was held in check for the majority of the game; his teammates instead coupled with another brilliant performance from goalie Philipp Grubauer to snag the win.
The first was fast and furious, with both teams seemingly having their legs from the get go. With Rantanen out, MacKinnon was the focus of the Blackhawks defense — and while MacKinnon was able to find multiple chances regardless, he was one of the many stars in the game who found themselves unable to convert in the first 20.
Chicago had chances of their own, with a pair of power-plays that came up empty. And while neither team could find the net, both were up and down the ice the whole time. Both goalies turned aside some golden opportunities — and while the shots on goal were only 8-7 in favor of the Hawks, the action on the ice was playoff worthy.
The second period, the action seemed to calm down compared to the up tempo of the first. After some up and down by both teams, the Avs finally struck gold. Patrick Nemeth threw an unassuming puck towards the net, which was redirected by J.T. Compher and past Crawford for the game’s first goal.
Colorado kept the pressure up, trying to get another goal as quickly as possible — but some lax play by the Avs gave Jonathan Toews a gift, as the puck was sitting waiting for him right in front of the Colorado goal. Philipp Grubauer went behind the net to set the puck for Nikita Zadorov, but Zadorov ultimately lost the puck when he attempted to leave it behind him. The puck bounced off the boards, Toews collected the puck — and with Grubauer slow to get back in front of goal and set himself, Toews was able to sneak it past the Colorado goaltender before he could get into position.
Colorado found themselves on a power-play with just over seven minutes left in the period and 30 seconds into that penalty Tyson Barrie took a stick to the face that drew blood as well as a four minute double minor. Barrie went to the locker room and the Avs went on the attack.
Colorado held the puck in the offensive zone and after several passes and shot attempts, Nathan Mackinnon received a pass from Alexander Kerfoot and had a wide open net in front of him. His shot miraculously went off the stick of Duncan Keith then off his skate and off to the side. Colin Wilson was able make up for the missed chance when he jammed home a Kerfoot pass right in front of the net to score on the 5-on-3 advantage.
Colorado would still have over two minutes left on the double minor, but were unable to extend the lead with the man advantage. Tyson Jost then found his way to the penalty box but the Avalanche were able to kill the Chicago power play and send the teams to the locker rooms up 2-1.
Tyson Barrie would return to the ice before the end of the period, thankfully, despite what had looked like a potentially bloody disaster.
Colorado wasted no time extending the lead 1:26 into the third. Erik Johnson fired a shot towards the net, which was tipped in by Sven Andrighetto right in front of Crawford. The goal would be reviewed to determine if Andrighetto hit the puck with a high stick, which it was found he did not and the goal was upheld.
Chicago would have an opportunity to get back to within one with a power play, but the Avs did a tremendous job not giving the Hawks any real chances and shut down the Chicago man advantage still up two.
After some back and forth and some minor chances for each team, Chicago pulled to within one with 7:56 left in the period. An Erik Gustafsson slap shot from just inside the blue line pinged the goal post, and in past Grubauer.
Colorado appeared to be on their heels for much of the remainder of the game, trying to not give up the game tying goal. Chicago went all out after the Gustafsson goa, and really tested the Colorado defense and Grubauer alike. Both were up for the task, though, not letting the Chicago playmakers get any real chances.
The Avs would put the nail in the coffin when Derick Brassard put home an empty net goal to give the Avs a 4-2 lead.
With Arizona losing in OT the Avalanche now have sole possession of the final wild card spot, pending the outcome of the Minnesota Wild match-up this evening.
If we want to find the things the Avs need to improve on the most, it has to be the power-play. The Avs were 1-5 on the power-play Saturday, and the one goal came on a 5-on-3. It’s been the one glaring area, even though the Avalanche have been able to overcome it for now.
With the win, Colorado is now 25-1-2 when leading after two periods.
The Avalanche and Blackhawks will have a quick rest, travel and do it all again tomorrow in Chicago.